Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reading to Kids

Is there anything better than reading to kids? Walking behind waterfalls ispretty cool, and I do love chocolate. But really, reading to kids is right up there in my favorite things to do. Kids are so responsive, so eager, and so easy to please. And I love doing all the funny voices; I am a theatre teacher, after all.

I am so excited right now because my son is about to turn four, and we have recently opened a new chapter in his reading life. We're reading chapter books. Some of them don't have pictures for at least six pages. And he is totally okay with this! He's actually loving it.

When I asked him if he missed reading books with more pictures, he said, "It's okay because I see the pictures in my head."

We started on the Lighthouse Family series and have moved on to the Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We'll be reading those books for a while. Today, we began Little House in the Big Woods. Of course, now Alexander wants to find a hollow log and put a roof on it so we can smoke the deer meat we get when we go hunting.

I'm so excited to read all the books I loved as a kid. I'm thinking we'll get to Pippi Longstockings soon, and the Wizard of Oz should be fun.

What I want to know is...What books do you love reading to your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/etc? And what books did you love having read to you when you were a kid?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dated Language

I've been reading The Maltese Falcon, and I've come across a couple of words I had to look up. I like it when this happens. It often means one of two things. Sometimes it means the writer is stretching the language, using a more obscure word, which I like because it pushes me as a reader. Lisa is the Slushbuster most likely to use a word I don't know, and I love that. Other times, it means that the writer used a word that was common at the time the book was written, but isn't common anymore.

One of the words I had to look up from The Maltese Falcon was Levantine. Now, I had pretty much figured out what it meant from context, but I looked it up anyway. And a little bit sadly, I looked it up online, even though my dictionary is on the shelf right above my desk. I can look up now and see it as I type this. (Hi, Webster's New World Dictionary. Nice to see you. You're dated too, but I love you, so you get to stay there.)

I figured that if the story was written today, Hammett would have used the term "Middle Eastern" or more specifically "Syrian" or "Lebanese." Whichever. The use of the word Levantine helps define the time period in which the book was written.

Some words disappear because of technology. Anyone dialed a phone and gotten an answering service lately? Saved your work to a floppy disc? No? Some words change because of popular culture. When was the last time you listened to records after you got home from having a malted at the drugstore? Has anyone our age ever done that? Has anyone under the age of 30 ever gone to a video arcade with a pocketful of quarters to play Pac-Man or Zaxxon?

Political correctness changes a lot of what we write. The use of Levantine made me think of that other dated word that's been in the news a lot lately. Now I don't want to get into a whole "should they or shouldn't they" discussion about whether or not it's appropriate to substitute the word "slave" for "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn. I'm just observing that what is common usage in one time and place becomes inappropriate in another. In our age of political correctness, it happens a lot. For hundreds of years it was appropriate to use the word "cripple." But in the last 50 years, not so much.

I repeat that I'm not trying to start a heated discussion. But sometimes, when I write, I wonder what words will disappear in a generation or two. Or change. Desktop now means what you see when you turn your computer on, not the computer itself. A blackberry is no longer assumed to be something you eat. On the flip side, these evolving words are useful for writing with historical context. So when I tell you one of my books has a main character who was really happy to get an Atari, you know it is set in the 80's.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Clearing out in the new year, or why what you read really does make a difference.

Happy new year, everyone! We've been a bit quiet over the holidays. I can't believe how many of the other bloggers have been writing every day through the madness. Good for you!

I've just finished a round of critiques for this evening's meeting. They were revisions to stories that Slushies have been working on for a while. I love these kinds of critiques, because I get to see how far the story has come since I first read it. One of them was a story that had been shelved for a while, but it's one of our favorites, and it definitely deserves a fighting chance, so I'm glad it's back in revision-land.

I've been working on a project at the library the past week or so, which I thought might interest you. I've been weeding our young adult fiction. Weeding is kind of the library version of inventory. We check the circulation on each item. If it hasn't been checked out in say, two years or more, we give it a good, hard look and evaluate whether or not it deserves to stay on our shelves. With the limited space in a small library, sometimes we have to be brutal. There are other factors, such as whether it is an award winner, or if the author is generally well-known, or whether or not other branches have the book. But the main criteria for keeping something is if someone has read it recently. Even one checkout can make the difference.

This is where you come in. If you checked out one of these books I'm looking at, you may have inadvertently cast a vote as to whether it stays or goes. If you recommended that book to a friend, and she checked it out, between the two of you, the circulation just went from a zero to a two in the past year. Another vote for keeping the book. If you recommended it to a book club, therefore increasing the circulation of every copy in our system, well, you've likely just insured the book will stay on our shelves for quite a while.

Before I worked at the library, I knew I could request they purchase a book. That was as far as I thought my influence as a patron went. I don't think people consider their role in keeping their favorite books on the shelves once the library owns them. So recommend a favorite to a friend!